Alaya (utsusemia) wrote,
Alaya
utsusemia

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Sufferance (fic)



Title: Sufferance
Author: utsusemia
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my crazy, crazy brain
Genre: Angst, h/c
Characters: Sam, Dean
Rating: PG-13 (I like to curse)
Spoilers: AU from 5.04 ("The End")
Summary: Eighteen months, two weeks and four days. AU from 5.04-that phone call was the last time Sam and Dean talked, but Dean never saw the future.
A/N: Many thanks to mimblexwimble , who helped convince me to post this. All comments are welcome, whether you like it or hate it.

#

Sam looks bigger.

That's Dean's first thought, when he breaks through the back door and runs into the hunting lodge, only to discover that another hunter is already busy saving the newlyweds from one seriously pissed-off poltergeist.

The couple cowers behind a giant moose head while Sam fires rock salt into the bloody apparition one handed with a fucking sawed off. The thing teleports behind him and Dean is about to shout a warning, but Sam turns as gracefully as a ballerina and blasts again. He laughs, like some maniacal, gunslinging version of the Brawny man, Dean swears to fucking god, and then looks around.

"Aw, scared you off?" Sam says. "Not so tough when you don't have some defenseless civilians to terrorize, huh?"

The ceiling light rattles, but the poltergeist otherwise makes no response. Dean hesitates in the doorway--Sam hasn't seen him, and he obviously has the situation under control. He could slink away, pretend that he hasn't seen his brother for the first time in almost nineteen months.

Pretend that what he's seen hasn't scared him still as that tattered moose head, as that civvie couple who haven't been busy cleaning up the apocalypse for a year and a half.

Sam shrugs and walks over to the newlyweds. He grabs the head by its bulbous graying antlers and tosses it aside like it's made of plastic. He helps the woman up.

"Get in your car, drive as fast as you can, get a motel," Sam says, clipped and serious. If he sounds harder than Dean remembers, at least it's a version of Sam he can recognize. At least it's better than the laughter.

"But we've rented this place for the week--" the man begins, but his wife slaps him. Hard.

"Henry," she says, "if you don't drive us the hell out of here, I will."

Super-Action Sammy gives her one of those dimpled sun-from-behind-clouds smiles and she blushes. "Listen to your wife, Henry."

Henry opens his mouth, clamps it shut and without another word follows his wife out the back door.

Past Dean.

He isn't trying to hide, and he thinks of it too late, anyway. They all see him. Henry, wife and Sam. Wife shrieks, Henry ducks and Sam has the sawed-off leveled before either of them have finished.

He doesn't fire. Dean doesn't even flinch. He can tell that this Sammy's too seasoned to waste a shot. He wonders how that happened. He wonders if all his brother needed was some time away from him.

"I'll deal with this," Sam says, his voice so cold you'd think he'd never seen Dean in his life. Except that this is still Sam, even with the bulging arm muscles and the blunt-cut hair and that steady, steady gun, and the pain in his eyes seems even deeper than his own.
It's been eighteen and a half months.

"Are you--" It's the woman.

"Go!"

They don't need to be told twice. They leave, and Dean hears a car engine roar to life moments later. The tires don't exactly screech on a dirt path, but he can tell they're tearing out of here. Dean has learned to be grateful with the civvies leave quickly. He hates collateral damage now even more than he used to. There's just so fucking much of it.
Sam lowers the gun as soon as they're gone. Dean lets out a breath. He'd wondered...

Sam smirks. "Nice, Dean," he says. "You really thought I'd said yes?"

Eighteen months, two weeks and three days. Four, maybe, if it's after midnight.

"Of course not," he says.

"Never a good liar, Dean."

"Well, I can't match the master," Dean says, and Sam flinches. There's something...something awful there, behind that brawny man physique, the hard, cold competence. Dean doesn't think that anyone else would be able to see it, but he can, and he thinks it's definitely eighteen months, two weeks and four days and he should be over his fucking head case of a brother by now.

But he isn't.

"Dean..."

Sam takes a few steps forward, and Dean notices a slight hitch in his brother's step, like there's a burr in his shoe and he wonders how some two-bit poltergeist got the jump on Super-Action Sammy.

"You okay?" Dean asks, before he can stop himself.

Sam's eyes go flat as a dead fish, so dull Dean wonders for a moment if this is the devil, if Sam was just waiting to see Dean again before he hung out the welcome sign and gave it all for Lucifer.

But, "Dean, behind you!" and Dean ducks just in time to prevent the fireplace poker from burying itself into his skull. It thuds and vibrates into the wall behind him.

Sam fires off another shot, Dean raises his shotgun, cursing himself for carelessness, sentimentality. There's no room for it now. Not with the world burning around their ears, and his brother at fault. He doesn't have room for this sadness and regret and worry. He has to kill the devil, in Sammy's body or out of it.

"We have to burn down the lodge," Sam says, rolling to avoid the fireplace poker, which the poltergeist is wielding like a club. "Wife killed him--"

The bloodied ghost of a man roars, and suddenly all the other fireplace tools start to zoom around the room like angry bees. "Yeah," Dean says, ducking and then wincing when the broom handle smacks him across the ass, "got that, Poindexter."

Sam gives him a grimace that might hide a smile. "Did you get to the part about her cutting him into little pieces and tossing the bits into the mortar for the house, or is that a spoiler?"

The spirit is raising more objects--everything that isn't nailed down, looks like, and then Dean hears a loud rip as the marble mantelpiece tries to tear itself from the wall. Dean rolls his eyes and lets off a few rounds of rock salt. "Fucking poltergeists," he says. "I just got into town this afternoon."

Sam is getting a jerry can of gasoline he left by the door. The poltergeist tries to grab it, but Dean lets off another shot. He'll have to reload soon, at this rate. "Mid-morning," Sam says. "But I had a big breakfast."

Dean rolls his eyes. "Fucking geek."

"Jerk. If you'd come here alone, you'd probably be a smear on the wall by now."
As if the thing in the house has enough sense left to understand their conversation, it appears with a headache-inducing eye flicker. Dean fires, but not fast enough to stop it from yanking the rug Sam's standing on out from under him.

Sam falls, hard. Dean thinks about that strange hitch in his step and he is not fucking worried when he calls his brother's name and takes a few steps toward him, just like the last eighteen months and two weeks and forever had happened to two different brothers.
Sam recovers quickly, rolls to his knees and then staggers back to his feet though something in his face tells Dean that it cost him.

"Dude, spill the gasoline so we can get the fuck out of here." Dean doesn't ask if he's all right. They're not brothers, not partners, just two hunters who happened to fall into the same job. It doesn't happen often, but it happens, and he's not going to let this sensation, this click like he's come back home, mean anything.

Dean moves so he's shoulder to shoulder with Sam, close enough to cover both their backs while he's emptying the jerry can. The house is strangely quiet. As though the poltergeist has given up, admitted it's outmatched, is placidly awaiting its death.

Yeah, exactly.

Sam tosses the last of the gas over the moose head and tosses jerry can aside. "That ought to--"

And then the moose head rises up from the ground, opens its great moose mouth and tries to take a bite out of Sammy. Whose back is to it, and so can't tell that he's about to enter the ranks of most embarrassing hunter deaths, right after Stevie Yarboro, who died of a ruptured spleen after a sex god gave him a cosmic wedgie. Dean is pretty sure that even the man who started the apocalypse doesn't deserve death by bad taxidermy, so Dean tackles his little brother, who was never so good with the hand-to-hand anyway. He's not really surprised when he feels the stabbing pain in his back and side, cause bad taxidermy or not, those antlers look mighty fierce and he's just lucky he didn't get run through.

"Dean? Fuck, Dean, you okay?"

The moose head is rising up for another go, and really, Dean is done with this. He raises the shotgun, aims...and clicks.

"Fuck."

Sam doesn't even bother to curse. He scrambles up from the ground, grabs the poker and swings it hard as he can at the moose antlers. Dean hears the satisfying sound of petrified moose bone shattering to the floor while he hunts in his pocket for a lighter. He looks back at his brother--Sam's a little bruised, and whatever happened to his leg is only getting worse, but he should be able to run out of here when the place goes up. And given the amount of gasoline Sam spilled around here, Dean doesn't think they'll have more than a few seconds to get clear.

Sam is panting, holding up the poker like it's a sword, but he gives Dean a steady nod
And Dean lights the fucker on fire.

It screams, like they always do, but Dean feels a whoop and a holler hovering somewhere in his chest as he and Sam scramble from the racing fire, through the splintered door and out into the mercifully cool, clear night air.

"Whoo!" Dean flips the lighter high in the air, catches it.

Sam grins at him, easy, but then it snags on something, like eighteen months, and he deliberately turns back to the fire. "I lost my sawed-off."

"Hey, more where that came from."

Dean doesn't understand it. He feels giddy, light, better than he's been in years. He'd forgotten that sometimes this gig could just be fun. That sometimes the Winchester brothers weren't the bickering duo, but a finely honed, well-oiled machine that ganked evil motherfuckers and liked their whisky neat.

Or, in Sam's case, their wine from the Napa Valley, but whatever.

He turns to Sam, words in his mouth, though frankly he doesn't know what, when the stars tip a little and Sam's mouth opens but the sound is far away and he thinks, fuck, am I high?

Sam's brawny man arms are holding him up, his hands on his shoulders. "Dean," he's saying, "Dean, where'd he get you?"

"Uh...am I bleeding?"

"Christ, Dean." And Sam rolls his eyes, lets Dean steady himself on Sam's shoulder, and pats him down. They both feel the blood quickly enough. It's that fucking moose head, of course, how could he forget it, skewering him through the back like some small North American mammal.

"I don't think moose eat small North American mammals, Dean. They're herbivores."

"Dude, you're reading my thoughts, and you're still geeky."

Sam laughs, but not very much. He presses his hand hard against Dean's back, and then he can feel the denser pressure of a cloth stanching the wound.

"There's a lot of blood," Sam says.

"Fucking moose."

"You need stitches. Is there anybody..."

Dean snorts. "What, you think I put an ad on Craigslist? Wanted, brother replacement, please no potential vessels for the devil, demon-blood free?"

"Good to know I'm one of a kind."

God knows Dean invited it, but he hates that tone in Sam's voice, that utter lack of reproach, the persistent self-hatred. He hates that he triggered it. He hates that he still thinks--still wants--Sam to deserve it.

"Sam--"

"Whatever, Dean. You can put up with me for one night, I guess."

Sam gets an arm under him, which Dean allows for the moment because he's slightly unsure of the direction of the ground. But he balks when he realizes the passenger side Sam's trying to squish him into isn't his passenger side.

"No way," Dean says. "We're taking my car."

Sam rolls his eyes. "You are bleeding like a stuck small North American mammal, Dean. Do you really want that all over your seats?"

No, he really doesn't, and it's unfair that his little brother knows him well enough to ferret out the only reason in the universe he would ever consent to ride shotgun in a fucking tiny, pansy-ass...

"Is this a Prius?"

Sam grins and turns over the engine. "I got her used six months ago. A beauty, isn't she?"

"You grow up in one of the most beautiful cars God gave man--"

"It's a Chevrolet, dude. They make those in Detroit."

"I bet you drink lattes in this car."

"Dean, I drank lattes in the Impala."

"Yeah, but they were, uh, manly lattes."

Sam's holding back a smile, but his eyes aren't doing so well. Dean's side might be aching like he's been rammed by a moose, but he isn't feeling all that bad at this moment.

"Nothing wrong with doing my part to help save the environment," Sam says.

"Cause carbon emissions are going to really make a difference when we're up to our ears in brimstone."

Sam's silent after that. Dean feels like he's just kicked a puppy.

A puppy who started the apocalypse.

But, fuck, is he really going on about that again? Sam might have signed the contract, but Dean started the negotiations. Eighteen months is a long time to stew.

It's a long time to pretend you don't love somebody.

"Sam..."

And that's when he notices: Sam is driving with his left leg.

It's easy, smooth, practiced. The car is flying along and Dean might not have ever noticed if not for the way he's slouched, trying to keep his blood from dribbling too much on Sam's hypo-allergenic seats.

Dean thought something had happened to Sam with the poltergeist, but now he isn't sure.
"We're almost there, Dean. I'll patch you up, get out of your hair. I promise, you won't have to see me again."

Sam's voice is Super-Action Sammy hard again, but Dean hardly notices. He's thinking about the way Sam walked when they were shoulder-to-shoulder back in the hunting lodge. That limp wasn't from a new injury. His whole body had moved with it, compensated for it, acted like it had always been there.

But it hadn't. The last time Dean saw Sam, his brother had been fine. Smaller, maybe, but fine.

"What happened to your leg?"

Sam doesn't swerve off the road or anything, but his fingers get tighter around the wheel, his chest stops rising for a moment. It's good, his self-control, but it's not perfect, and Dean knows he's hit something big.

"Nothing," Sam says.

"Sammy--"

"You don't get to call me that, Dean. Not now."

And Dean shuts up.

Sam pulls into the motel parking lot maybe five minutes later. Dean's been holding the rag against his side, but he's still woozy from blood loss. He lets Sam help him from the car.

"Where's your room?" Sam asks.

Dean looks at him in confusion until he remembers that they haven't shared a motel in a long time. "Twelve," he says. "But aren't you staying here?" It's the only motel in fifty miles, after all.

Sam hesitates, then shakes his head. "Your room is better."

"I left the keys in the Impala."

"I'll pick the lock."

Dean doesn't argue. He thinks this Sammy might leave him here if he presses the issue. He wonders what Sam has hiding in there this time. Some new demon lover? Hell, the devil himself, pleased as can be that his vessel is coming around?

Sam is quick with the lock, which is barely more trouble than a toothpick in a hole, and lets Dean stagger a little to the bed while he gets his med kit from the car. Dean probably saw his brother's ludicrous yuppie car in the lot when he pulled in. He should have noticed it, seen how different it was from the rusted pickups that usually inhabit back-country motel lots. He should have seen and gotten the hell out of dodge, because now he's here with his brother and there's worry and secrets and pain and responsibility and all that older brother shit he's spent one year, six months and eighteen days running from.
Dean watches Sam carefully when he walks back through the door. Sam knows Dean is watching, and so he's careful and the limp almost vanishes. Almost. But he can't quite control it, even when it's so desperately clear he wants nothing more than for Dean to never mention it again and that more than anything makes him afraid.

He pulls off his shirt at Sam's insistence, though it makes the cut open more. Sam sucks in his breath and attacks it with antiseptic.

Okay, so maybe he's not attacking it, but it feels almost as bad as the moose.

"Baby," Sam says.

"I was attacked by a taxidermied moose head. I think I'm holding it together pretty well, considering."

"Here," Sam says, and flips him a bottle. It's orange, like from a pharmacy, but all the prescription information has long since rubbed off. The white lid is well thumbed, the plastic a little cloudy.

"This is your brain on..."

"Prescription opiates. Believe me, you'll want it. You've got at least twenty stitches coming your way."

Dean gives Sam a speaking look, shrugs, and then pops two. He's had stitches plenty enough times before to know they hurt like a bitch.

Sam's careful, neat and quicker than an ER nurse, a fact that Dean hadn't quite forgotten so much as suppressed. But by the time it's done, he's glad that the opiates have begun to kick in and he can lean back carefully against the lumpy motel room pillows and let the world settle against his eyelids.

He hears Sam stand up, carefully put away his supplies in the med kit.

"So," Dean says, without opening his eyes. "You planning to tell me why you keep a bottle of oxy in your pocket?"

"Cause I'm happy to see you?"

"But you're not."

"What?"

"Happy to see me."

"Dean..."

Dean should open his eyes. Sam's got that sound in his voice, something rawer than Dean's heard all night, and he thinks that if he could just focus and ask, he might find out what's happened to his brother. He might understand why the devil's vessel is still driving around fighting ghosts like the world isn't crashing around their ears.

He might understand why Michael's vessel is, too.

But Dean can't open his eyes.

"I'm happy to see you, Dean."

Dean thinks, me too, Sammy but he can't say it before the door closes and the opiates grip him hard as any hellhound, drag him down to sleep.

#

Dean wakes with a fire in his side and ashes in his mouth. He's still a little muzzy from all the oxy--next time, he'll remember to start with one--but he remembers that last night he hunted with his brother and this morning it still feels like his dreams.

He swings his legs over the bed, waits for the white to clear, stands. Painful, but nothing a little denial and a lot of whisky won't cure. He hunts through his muddle of gear until he finds his flask and takes a sip or three. He wonders if Sam is still here, or if his brother cleared out as soon as he patched him up. Dean still has Sam's last phone message saved--his name, spoken once, and then two minutes of silence with a sound in the background like a train station. That was two months after and Dean wasn't close to ready for forgiving. Now, he listens to it again, and wonders why he didn't think of the other well-trafficked institution that can sound a lot like a train station in its fuzzed-out echoes.

Dean could stay in his room. He probably bled two pints last night, and even his dad would grant that he could use some r&r. He could wait until the walking minefield of his little brother has safely passed and his world could settle back to...what? Normal? Safe? Happy? Fine, nothing so ambitious. But numb, at least he had that, in his carefully Sam-free world. At least he had excised the one person from his life who could ever really hurt him, and that had seemed like a good thing, or at least a steady thing, something he could count on and drink to when he woke from nightmares at three in the morning.

Dean's headed to the door before he's made the decision. Then he opens it, sees the Prius in the lot and it's green, his dork of a brother actually bought a green Prius and calls it his baby and suddenly Dean misses him so much it's all he can do not to cry in the middle of the parking lot.

He yanks on a pair of jeans, jams on his boots, doesn't bother to button his one clean shirt. He calls the motel, asks to speak to Sam Witherspoon--of course he's still using that card, the pansy, it's the only one not attached to a real person's bank account--and gets the room number before hanging up. Fifteen. Three doors down.

"And you still had to break into my room?" Dean mutters. Well, he could play that, too. The door is locked, but he picks it even faster than Sam did last night (probably because he had to balance Dean with his other arm, but hey, Dean still wins).

The shower is running, which Dean guesses is better for sussing out Sam's secret. No matter that he feels like some suburban mom, hunting through her kid's rock collection for weed. Demon blood. Whatever.

He shuts the door quietly behind him. Looks around.

There's a leg on the bed. Sam's leg, which makes so little sense that Dean actually whirls around, wondering where the rest of him went. Maybe it's one of his geek projects, some anatomical model for Lucifer possession, the best veins for sucking demon blood, or...

It's his shoe. Those low black running shoes Sam says have better mobility and Dean thinks would be a lot more helpful with a steel toe. One of their arguments, back when they had them. Why would Sam give one of his geek projects his shoe?

Dean blinks. Everything's gone fuzzy, like he can't see properly, or another moose just hit him from behind, except he's pretty sure there's no moose head decor in Bob's Roadside Hostelry. He remembers to breathe. Forgets.

"Dean?"

There's jokes in his head, a hundred thousand horrible jokes that fall down his throat like bile. Hey, you forgot your leg and You get half off at Payless? and Pull yourself together, man. He almost laughs at that one. Almost fucking laughs.

Then he turns around, cause what's he going to do, stare at a fake leg forever? It's Sam, the same from eighteen months and two weeks and four days, the same from last night, except this one ends at his right leg, just below the knee. He has a towel around his waist, and wet hair in his eyes and balances on crutches like he's used to them and, well, he would be.

"Christ, Dean, can't you fucking knock?"

Dean stares at him, like somehow Sam will tell him that it's a trick, some Angel morality play, some demon mind-fuck, something they can pin down and hunt and make go away but Sam just sighs and that's how Dean knows.

He almost knocks Sam over, that's how fast he rushes to the toilet.

There wasn't much in there to begin with--just some whisky and some oxy and what's left of a burger he had before he went out last night. It all comes up. It hurts like a hellhound has latched its teeth into his side, like Alastair has come back from the demon grave and started in on his lessons, but he can't stop. He groans and pukes and pukes until the stuff from his lips is like the foam of a rabid dog. Maybe he passes out. He isn't sure. He only surfaces when Sam puts a cool hand on his shoulder, when his brother squats on the floor of the bathroom, leans against the wall and waits.

"Hey," Sam says, when Dean takes a shuddering breath and his stomach doesn't seize.
Dean wipes his mouth with a shaking hand, looks around for something better, and then sees that Sam has a wet towel. Sam got dressed--put his leg on--while Dean was busy with his best Typhoid Mary impression. He looks normal now, but then he doesn't because Dean knows, and he'll never be able to go back.

Any more than Sam can.

"Hey," Dean says.

"You popped your stitches."

Dean doesn't trust himself to shrug. He leans against the cool ceramic of the tub. "Guess so."

"You should let me...before I go."

"You weren't going to tell me."

Sam's smile is bleaker than an angel's. "This is the last time we'll see each other. What was the point?"

I'm your brother Dean wants to say, but that's not his card to play any more. Not for a long time. "That call...that message, was that--"

"Hospital. They wanted next of kin. I...denied it later, but, painkillers. You know. Sometimes make you forget."

"Sam, if you'd told me, I would have--"

Sam's eyes get hard again, like that stranger in the cabin. "I know, Dean. Why the fuck do you think I never called? I just figured I'd hunt until something killed me."

Some of Dean's blood drips onto the tiles and part of him wishes it would never stop, that his inside would slip outside until none of him is left at all. This wasn't supposed to happen. Leaving Sam was supposed to save them both. Maybe even save the world, if they got lucky.

"But you're good," Dean says.

Sam laughs, tugs on a lock of his damp hair. "Didn't expect that to happen."

"Sam, I..."

"Don't worry about it, Dean. Get up. Leave. It's what you were planning on doing anyway."

Sam stands. More weight on his left than his right, of course, but not with any difficulty.
He helps Dean up, and Dean thinks it's funny that he needs it.

"I didn't want you to see this," Sam says suddenly, like he didn't mean to.

"Hunt with me," Dean says, and he knows he didn't mean to.

Sam goes rigid with shock. For a moment, Dean thinks he might cry, but then his shoulders shake and Dean realizes he's laughing.

"Dean," Sam says, and then stops to laugh more, each exhale harsher than the last. "Do you know how much I wanted..." Sam takes a deep breath, stops, and Dean isn't surprised to see something far from mirth in his face. "Fuck no."

"That's...emphatic."

"You didn't mean it anyway. Take it as a blessing."

"Hunt with me."

"No."

"Hunt with me."

"No."

"I want...Sam, I should have answered your calls. I should have...we're better together, always have been. Back in that cabin--"

"Dean, would you have ever offered if you hadn't seen...if you hadn't found out? If it were just me and you in that cabin, would you have been all let's call the calling off off, or would you have climbed back into your fucking gas eating Impala and been happy to see the back of me?"

"I..."

"Leave, Dean. Get someone else to do the stitches."

Sam stalks back into the room, not bothering to hide his limp, or his anger. For a moment, he looks like he's sixteen and Dad's made him go on another hunt the one weekend he can take his SATs. Dean feels all the protectiveness and frustration and confusion he felt then, but there's regret and guilt laid impasto thick and he thinks it might suffocate him.

"I might have."

Sam doesn't turn around. "Might."

"How the fuck can I know, Sam? It didn't happen. I picked the damn lock and I saw. And I mean it. I want you to hunt with me."

"You picked the lock."

"Yeah, next time I'll knock, promise."

Sam sits on the bed and briefly puts his head in his hands, and Dean's bizarrely grateful that he's not the only one having a hard time here. "Why the hell did you come here if you were going to leave, anyway?"

"I..."

"Might have." He sighs, but when he looks back up at Dean, something's changed. "Sit down, Dean. You're getting enough blood on your clothes for Lizzie Borden."

Sam pulls out the popped stitches and does it all again. When he's done, he fishes that cloudy pill bottle from his pocket and offers one to Dean.

Dean shakes his head. "Shit kicked my ass to this morning, so no thanks. You got any whisky?"

Sam shrugs and pops two dry. "Scotch. Bottom of the med kit."

Dean hunts for the scotch, grabs hold of it like a treasure map and gingerly sits back down on the bed. He feels rode hard and put away wet, and Sam doesn't look much better.

Dean takes a swig, offers it to Sam, who accepts and Dean refrains from asking if it's a good idea. They sit like that, stoned and drunk; too exhausted to think for a long time, maybe half an hour. It feels good to sit with him, to feel him breathing and alive. Somehow.

"I can't hunt with you," Sam says, eventually.

Dean's heart hurts, like some fucking poltergeist is tearing it apart. Not now he thinks. Not after I found him again.

"Why?" Dean manages.

"You've heard of phantom pain?"

"Like a ghost?"

Sam laughs. "Yeah. But not the kind we hunt. My leg is haunting me. Sometimes it hurts. And when it does..." He swallows and gasps like a fish when he tries to speak again. "It's bad, Dean."

"But you're already hunting."

"Yeah, and if it kills me, no big deal. If it gets you killed?"

"It won't."

"I appreciate your faith in me."

"It's not faith in you, kid, it's faith in me. I've been hunting by myself a lot longer than you. We'll figure it out."

For a moment, Dean thinks that might be the end of it. Sam looks so suddenly young and hopeful and relieved. But then that pain clouds his eyes again and he leans against the headboard and just breathes like if he doesn't keep track of every one he might just give up on that, too.

Dean hears his brother's voice saying It's bad and he presses his knuckles against his forehead and counts, very slowly, to ten.

"It's not just that," Sam says.

Of course not.

"It's Lucifer. He finds me...almost every night, unless I drug myself out of dreaming. The first night, when I was in the hospital and they told me and he heard, or he knew somehow. He offered...Dean, you can't hunt with me, you understand? No matter what. You should get up now, get the hell away from me."

"Sam, I've been attacked by a moose and I think my stomach lining is in the septic tank. I'm not going anywhere for a few hours."

"You're such a jackass."

"And you're a bitch. What does he offer?"

"What do you think?"

Well, isn't that a punch in the gut. He can't help it, he looks over at Sam, checks him over for signs of possible possession by ultimate evil.

"Still haven't said yes, promise."

"Sam..."

"And I wouldn't, I swear, I wouldn't even be tempted but sometimes the way it hurts, it's like anything would be better. And I know that it's sociopathic to put the welfare of the whole fucking world at risk just because my goddamn leg that isn't even there is hurting me, but..."

But nothing. Dean's been there, and he's broken. He put the welfare of every soul in hell beneath his own, and he was grateful for the chance.

"It's Lucifer that makes it hurt. The way it does, the extremes. The hospital couldn't figure it out, but he told me."

"So he's torturing you into giving in? That's honest."

"It's not dishonest. He is the devil."

This seems much funnier than it should be. Dean laughs and then groans. "I have a stitch in my side," he says and Sam actually punches him in the arm.

"We're so fucked," Sam says.

"Hunt with me."

"Christ, Dean, give it up already!"

"I mean it."

"Did you hear the part where I said I've been sorely tempted by the devil to let him reign on earth in exchange for taking away leg pain?"

"Yes, well, that was fucked up."

"A man works up a good dramatic confession and you just keep at it like a dumb dog."

"Hunt with me."

"Dean, I swear to God, if you ask me one more time I will say yes and when I give in to the devil you will have to put up with some really atrocious taste in menswear."

"...Wow."

"You have no idea. White suits, Dean. An endless parade of white suits. And white patent-leather shoes. And roses! I'm like the wedding singer at a Reno love motel."

"That's..."

"As of now, worse than the sensation of my right leg being dipped in a vat of boiling acid. But I make no promises."

It's tossed in so casually that Dean is laughing before he connects the image with a sensation and that sensation with Super-Action Sammy and the dead-fish eyes and that weight that's settled over him. Dean is probably the only person alive who knows exactly what a vat of boiling acid feels like, and even that knowledge is distanced and muted by his new body and his years away from Hell.

Sammy, he has Alastair every night.

No, he has Alastair's teacher.

And Dean knows with that kind of provocation, it's only a matter of time before Sam gives in. Maybe a year, maybe ten, but one morning Dean will wake up and it won't be his little brother in the motel bed beside him, but the devil himself.

"White suits. Really?"

"Sometimes there are cummerbunds."

"You know, I think you might have convinced me."

"See, I can watch my carbon emissions and do my part to save the world."

"A green Prius. Could you be more of a cliche, Sammy?"

"So says the one who bangs bartenders in the back seat of his muscle car while listening to Led Zeppelin."

Dean grins. "At least my cliche is more fun."

Sam starts to smile, then looks away. "You could call, sometimes. Or just pick up the phone. You don't even have to talk. Just grunt so I know you're okay."

"Am I going somewhere?"

"Uh...back to your muscle car to save the world from the Book of Revelations?"

"Oh, right, I forgot."

"It's okay."

Dean shifts on the bed, wonders if he should have taken one of Sam's pills, and drinks another burning mouthful of scotch. Sam snags the bottle a moment later. The room smells faintly of carpet cleaner and old cigarettes, strongly of blood and vomit and Sam's girly shampoo.

"Hunt with me."

Sam looks like he's going to cry when he answers, but he Swore to God, and no one takes that more seriously than Lucifer's chosen vessel.

"Yes."

END


(This is from the amazing Patty Griffin's amazing album Impossible Dream, which you should buy, and this song is called Useless Desires. It fit so well with the story that, well, enjoy.)
Tags: fanfic, supernatural
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